Britain in 2019 faces major social, political and economic challenges
Britain in 2019 faces major social, political and economic challenges

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Britain in 2019 faces major social, political and economic challenges

One hundred years since the Ministry of Reconstruction’s adult education committee published its Report on Adult Education, a new report argues that adult education and lifelong learning must be a permanent national necessity, an inseparable aspect of citizenship, vital to addressing the huge societal divisions and challenges to democracy we currently face.

The challenges include the climate crisis; communities more divided than in living memory, with many feeling excluded from today’s politics; and Artificial Intelligence threatening to disrupt jobs and permanently alter the nature of work forever.

Funding for adult learning and apprenticeships has fallen by 45% in real terms since 2009-10, cutting adult education participation dramatically. Today’s Report calls for:

  • A national Adult Education & Lifelong Learning Strategy, with a participation target to reduce the gap between the most and least educationally active.
  • A Minister with specific responsibility for Adult Education and Lifelong Learning to report annually to Parliament on progress.
  • Community Learning Accounts, alongside Individual Learning Accounts to provide funding for informal, community-based learning initiatives led by local groups.

Dame Helen Ghosh, Master of Balliol College, Oxford and Chair of the Commission said: ‘There is a national consensus in favour of adult education and lifelong learning. We need the next government to step up to the challenge, and deliver what is, in the words of the 1919 Report and today's Report, "A Permanent National Necessity". In meetings across the country our Commission found a huge appetite for adult education and lifelong learning - we saw evidence of communities being brought together through imaginative educational initiatives; new groups being formed to analyse and discuss the issues of the day, including the climate crisis; and a desire to understand and prepare for the changing world of work, including amongst those in the 'gig economy' for whom provision at present is scant. Our Commission's recommendations would address all these needs.'

CBI President elect and Commission member Lord Bilimoria said: 'I commend this Report for showing the way, and I call on the next government to implement its proposals. Serving on the Centenary Commission has been fascinating - such a range of social, economic, political and demographic challenges to tackle, with local contexts so important - and such inspiring examples from across the country of what could be achieved, if only we had a coherent national strategy with the funding and political will to deliver on the ground. Education is so important to us all, as individuals, and as members of our communities. And with the rapidly changing nature of work, with new technological developments continually emerging over the horizon, education for work needs to rise to the challenge - developing capabilities of team working, critical thinking, and reasoning. That's what's needed for our economy, our communities, our society and our democracy.'

Welcoming the Report, the Chief Economist of the Bank of England Andy Haldane said: 'This Report contains powerful and compelling recommendations for transforming and embedding adult education. It is an ambitious blueprint, but circumstances today and especially tomorrow call for no less. For three centuries, the UK’s education system has had a singular – and very successful – focus: developing cognitive skills in the young. That model is not fit for tomorrow’s purpose. The education system of tomorrow needs to span the generational spectrum - young to old - and the skills spectrum - cognitive to vocational to interpersonal. The economic benefits of doing so are crystal clear. The social and civic benefits are greater still. Social problems of disadvantage, disconnection and division loom large - adult education is one means of tackling those three d’s at source.'

Sir Vince Cable said: 'I warmly welcome the Report of the Centenary Commission on adult Education. Adult education has never been more important and yet it is in decline and is poorly supported by Government. There is great merit in the idea of equipping adults with a learning account which can be used for adult studies as people progress through life. Today’s skills and qualifications will often become redundant and we need a mechanism, through adult education, to help people adapt.'

Author Jojo Moyes said: 'Levels of adult literacy are shameful in this country and that's partially because of the threat to libraries, the cuts, and slashes in funding. I urge Government to respond positively to this call for investment in adult education and lifelong learning.'

The Report of the Centenary Commission on Adult Education, “A Permanent National Necessity...” Adult Education and Lifelong Learning for 21st Century Britain can be read here.

Members of the Centenary Commission on Adult Education 2019

Dame Helen Ghosh (Chair): Master of Balliol College, Oxford. Previously Chief Executive, The National Trust; Permanent Secretary, Home Office; Permanent Secretary, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs.

Sir Alan Tuckett OBE (Vice Chair): Professor, University of Wolverhampton. Previously Chief Executive, National Institute of Adult Continuing Education; President, International Council for Adult Education.
Melissa Benn: Author, novelist, journalist, broadcaster. Chair, Comprehensive Future; Council member, New Visions for Education Group.
Lord (Karan) Bilimoria: Co-founder & Chairman, Cobra Beer; Chancellor, University of Birmingham.
Dr Sharon Clancy: Chair, Raymond Williams Foundation. Previously Head of Community Partnerships, University of Nottingham.
Melissa Highton: Assistant Principal, Online Learning and Director of Learning, Teaching & Web Services, University of Edinburgh.
Uzo Iwobi OBE: Chief Executive Officer, Race Council Cymru. Previously Principal Equality Officer, South Wales Police; member of the Commission for Racial Equality.
Roger McKenzie: Assistant General Secretary, Unison. Previously Vice Chair, West Midlands Assembly; Midlands Regional Secretary, TUC; Race Equality Officer, TUC.
Sir Ken Olisa OBE: Chairman, Shaw Trust; Lord-Lieutenant of Greater London; Chairman, Restoration Partners; Deputy Master, Worshipful Company of Information Technologists
Sue Pember OBE: Director, Holex (professional body for Adult Community Education and Learning). Previously lead Director for FE, Dept for Business Innovation & Skills (BIS).
Dr Cilla Ross: Vice Principal, Co-operative College, Manchester.
Sir Peter Scott: Emeritus Professor of Higher Education, UCL Institute of Education. Previously Vice Chancellor, Kingston University.
Ruth Spellman OBE: General Secretary, WEA. Previously Chief Executive of Chartered Management Institute, Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and Investors in People UK.
Joint Secretaries/Research Directors: John Holford: Robert Peers Professor of Adult Education, University of Nottingham.
Jonathan Michie: Professor of Innovation, President of Kellogg College, and Director of Continuing Education, University of Oxford.
Researcher: Dr Nick Mahony.

The Commission is part of a broader ‘Adult Education 100’ Campaign, whose Patrons are:

i. Baroness Joan Bakewell, President of Birkbeck University of London
ii. Mary Beard, Professor of Classics, University of Cambridge
iii. Lalage Bown, Prof. Emeritus, Adult & Continuing Education, University of Glasgow
iv. Andy Haldane, Chief Economist, Bank of England
v. Mel Lenehan, Principal and CEO, Fircroft College
vi. John Sentamu, Archbishop of York
vii. Michael Sheen, Actor
viii. Ruby Wax, Mental Health Campaigner